Title of Work
West Facade, Capital Frieze- Life of the Virgin
Title of Image
20: Massacre of the Innocents
c. 1145
: West Façade, Left Frieze, Life of Mary and Infancy of Christ, Left Side of Central Portal
From the right:
20: Massacre of the Innocents
(Matthew 2:16-18, Protevangelium of James 22:1; Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew 17:1)
Herod ordered the killing of all the male children in Bethlehem and the surrounding area since the Magi had told Herod that the "King of the Jews" would be born there.
This is a long scene covering eight capital faces. It contains approximately 40 figures. The action is spread out over the faces of three capitals and the two concave corners between them. This has been divided into nine scenes or vignettes, 20a through 20i, in response to the content of capital faces, for clarity of identification, and to correspond with the Section Three Capital Frieze Diagram. See the metadata accompanying FCSP18120000 for a complete description of this extended depiction of the Massacre.
(20f) In the next corner, a figure seems to be holding the foot of a naked infant hanging upside down.
(20g/20h) The figures on the remaining capital faces are damaged. However it is possible to make out three soldiers attacking infants that they hold and that are being held by two female figures.
(20i) The last two figures to the left appear to be related to but separate from the rest of the Massacre. An adult woman, with an unidentified object slung over her chest, grasps the arm of an older child; a large sword held in the right hand of an otherwise missing soldier appears to threaten them. It is possible that this is the flight of Elizabeth and the young John the Baptist from the Massacre, as described in the Protevangelium of James 22:3, though identification is uncertain – PM.
Heimann suggests that the placement of this extended scene before the Hiding of Elizabeth and John and the Presentation of Christ is due to its order in Byzantine cycles (Heimann, p. 82). Spitzer believes the length of this episode is a result of the emphasis on mothers and infants on the local cult of the Virgin (Spitzer, p 140). The rightmost two figures may be part of another scene. It may also be a reflection of the popularity of the Massacre of the Innocents in medieval drama - JV.
Compare this scene with the Massacre of the Innocents in Panels 13-5 of The Infancy of Christ Window (Delaporte no. 2, Deremble-Mahnes no. 50). This window is above the frieze and also survived the fire of 1194.
At right are figures from:
Type of Work
Subtype of Work
Capital Frieze
Cathédrale de Chartres--Pictorial works.;Church decoration and ornament--France--Chartres--Pictorial works.;Church architecture--France--Chartres--Pictorial works.;Christian art and symbolism--France--Chartres--Medieval, 500-1500--Pictorial works.
Philip Maye
MEDART Website

Chartres: Cathedral of Notre-Dame

20: Massacre of the Innocents